Viewpoint: Physicians should complete competency assessments as they age

Given the crucial nature of their work, Sandeep Jauhar, MD, PhD, believes physicians should undergo periodic competency assessments after age 65. 

In a Nov. 28 opinion piece for The New York Times, Dr. Jauhar, a cardiologist at New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, contends that while a mandatory retirement age would be "crude and unfair," mandating periodic competency assessments every two or three years for older physicians could be a good approach to prevent those who may be developing significant cognitive impairment from making critical decisions about patient care. 

Such assessments would have to be developed thoughtfully, using tests "validated and vetted for transparency and fairness." Additionally, results would have to take into account the individual physician's specialty. Dr. Jauhar gives the example of how the visual acuity and stamina required for complex surgery is different from that needed for office-based practice. 

If results were to indicate significant impairment, transitional strategies such as cutting back on workload or not performing invasive procedures should be considered before mandating retirement, he said.

Dr. Jauhar also acknowledged that "youth, in turn, is no guarantee of competency," but maintained that periodic age-based screening makes the most sense since younger physicians must already pass periodic certification exams in their specialty. 

"Aging inevitably brings physical and mental decline, which can affect physician performance and put patients at risk," Dr. Jauhar wrote. "Air traffic controllers are required to retire at age 56, and airline pilots must stop flying commercial flights at 65. Doctors face no such restrictions, even though their decisions are also crucial for people's lives." 

Read the full piece here

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